Today is William Shakespeare’s birthday.“When icicles hang by the wall/And Dick the shepherd blows his nail”Allen particularly liked that line, and the whole “Song” (from Love’s Labors Lost (1598)),he taught it on several occasions. A recording of his January 1980 class in “Basic Poetics”, at NAROPA has him reading the poem and remarking on it (the reading and commentary take place about four minutes in).In July 1984, he came back to it in his class, situating it, as he had before, in the context of his Mind Writing Slogans, accuracy, precision (the reading of the poem, on this occasion, occurs about fourteen minutes in).(There’s also an earlier attempt in a 1975 class (on Shakespeare and Ben Jonson), which unfortunately gets hi-jacked by the antics of a rambunctious Gregory Corso),tho’ Ginsberg makes unequivocal comparisons between Corso and Shakespeare here, (focusing on the qualities of the clown – and, “Certain aspects of Corso have a Shakespearean accuracy and propriety..”)
Allen also admired the companion-piece, in Love’s Labor Lost, “Spring“.Two other Ginsberg-Shakespeare fusions. His March 1980 “Basic Poetics” class addresses in detail Shakespeare’s Sonnets, giving them a singularly queer reading (Sonnet 20, Allen points out to be the lynch-pin of the whole book – “A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand-painted/Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion”)
And his reverence for Shakespeare’s great last play, The Tempest. In August, 1980, he conducted a class on that, paging through the text, not intending to be comprehensive but focusing rather, on, as he put it “little high-spots, little delicacies of language”.He also admired the soliloquies and dramatic verse. In March 1980 he had his student’s think more about Prospero’s last lines, immortal last lines (about the transience of mortality):
“These our actors,/As I foretold you, were all spirits and/Are melted into air, into thin air:/And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,/The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,/The solemn temples, the great globe itself,/Ye,all which it inherit, shall dissolve/And like this insubstantial pageant faded,/ Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff/As dreams are made on and our little life/ Is rounded with a sleep”.